Jack Lindsay. William Blake: His Life and Work. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1979. (originally published in London: Constable and Company Ltd.) 334 pp., 21 illus. $15.00.
Jack Lindsay first read Blake in 1917-18 when he was in his teens. His world-view was provided by Blake and by Dostoevsky and Shakespeare. In 1927 he published a small but surprisingly informative booklet, William Blake, which saw a second edition in 1929. Lindsay’s essay on Blake’s meter in the Scholaris Press edition of the Poetical Sketches appeared in the same year. Then, for about forty years, Lindsay published little on Blake (a few reviews and essays), but, as he writes in the foreword to the full-scale biography on Blake which he published in 1978, “through the years I have kept returning to him and seeking to revalue him in terms of the problems thrown up by my own development.” And he adds: “I do not write as someone interested in Blake from the outside, but as someone for whom he has been a vitally formative influence throughout life.”
Every reader of Lindsay’s book should have these words in mind. They explain the author’s personal approach to Blake. This emphasis on the applicability of Blake’s ideas to the social, political and economical thinking of a man living in the twentieth century is the most attractive feature of Lindsay’s book. At the same time it makes the book misleading to any reader not already familiar with Blake. Lindsay stresses what is of interest to him: Blake’s political radicalism, his heretical antinomianism, his prophetical revolutionarism, his imaginative humanism, his pre-Marxian[e] dialectics and the strong—and by other commentators frequently undervalued—materialistic element in his thought. But Lindsay never takes seriously Blake’s definition of himself as a Christian visionary, and he is out of sympathy with Blake’s gradual development from political radical to spiritualist mystic. Lindsay’s Blake never grows older than forty. Blake’s comments on the spiritual world to Crabb Robinson make “painful reading” to him.
Lindsay tolerates religious ideas only so far as they can be used as stand-ins for lampoons against the established econo-political system. As a consequence, he gives us a denaturalized Blake. For this reason Lindsay’s book is not a biography in the sense that Gilchrist’s and Mona Wilson’s books are biographies. It is a specialized investigation of one single question: why read Blake today?
Oddly enough, although Jack Lindsay is son and pupil of the artist Norman Lindsay, he does not seem to be particularly interested in Blake as a pictorial artist. The most notable defects, also, are found in the sections on Blake’s pictorial works. In a way this is understandable. In Blake, Lindsay seeks help to clarify his own view of man as he appears today, formed by history and living under an industrialized capitalist economic system. From this point of view Blake the writer seems more rewarding than Blake the artist. In spite of this I feel that Lindsay’s treatment of Blake’s artistic achievements is more cavalier than it should be. To substantiate this criticism, I shall give examples of dubious or incomplete statements in Lindsay’s book.begin page 165 |
The section on the anonymous drawings made at the opening of the coffin of Edward I in 1774 (p. 2) is incorrect. There are two drawings, and King Edward appears twice in each of them.1↤ 1 See Martin Butlin, William Blake, exhibition catalogue (Tate Gallery, 1978), nos. 6-7; Geoffrey Keynes, Blake Studies (Oxford, 1971), pp. 17 ff., repr. pls. 9, 10. According to Lindsay both drawings are inscribed in a hand resembling that of young Blake, but this is true only of one of them, namely the one showing coffin and corpse strictly from above. The other drawing, made in isometric perspective, differs in style and bears inscriptions in a different hand—I doubt its general inclusion in the oeuvre of Blake.
However that may be, Blake certainly did not get his idea of figures clad in tight-fitting garments from this source, as Lindsay maintains. Such a supposition seems likely only if we confine ourselves to Ayloffe’s account of the opening, but is rendered impossible by the drawings themselves, none of which reveals the form of the limbs or the body under the garment. In three of the sketches even the face is only dimly seen through the veil covering it, or not seen at all; only one of the isometric sketches shows the uncovered face.
Much has been written about the tight fitting dresses in Blake’s figures. Strictly speaking there are two different kinds of such dresses: body-tights made from fabric, resembling those used by modern dancers, and made visible on the naked body only by their color, a few folds, and by rings around wrists and ankles; and tight-fitting scaly armour. A likely source for the latter has been found by Morton Paley in the English edition of Montfaucon: ↤ 2 Morton D. Paley, “‘Wonderful Originals’—Blake and Antique Sculpture,” Blake in His Time, ed. Robert N. Essick and Donald Pearce (Bloomington and London, 1978), p. 176.
The military habit of the Sarmatians is the most extraordinary one we have yet seen. For it’s so closely adjusted to their Body from the Neck to the very Sole of the Foot, that all the Motions of the Members and Muscles appear as plainly through it, as if the Body was naked. ‘Tis also covered with Scales without the least Interval, even as low as the Hand, and down to the Sole of the Foot.[e] 2
According to Tacitus the Sarmatian armor was made from leather, with metal scales attached to it.3↤ 3 Tac. Hist. I:79. Cf. Tac. Germ. 46. He adds that it was very resistant to blows, but it was also very stiff, restricted the movements of the Sarmatian soldiers, and made it difficult for them to mount their horses.
Several of the Roman Emperors bore the name of honor Sarmaticus, because they had defeated Sarmatians, notably Trajanus, on whose column at Rome Sarmatians are shown, all clad in tight-fitting scaly armour, covering even the hands but not the feet.4↤ 4 K. Kretschmer, “Sarmatae,” Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der Klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, neue Bearb. beg. von Georg Wissowa, zweite Reihe Bd. 1 (Stuttgart, 1920), pp. 2542 ff. A rider of this type is shown in Raphael’s fresco of Leo the Great and Attila in the Vatican Stanza di Eliodoro (foreground, extreme right), which Blake certainly knew from engravings. Raphael had a good reason for including a Sarmatian soldier among the Huns. According to Kretschmer early copies of Ptolemaios’ cartographic work identify the Sarmatians with the Chunoi, that is, the Huns.5↤ 5 Above, n. 4. In medieval and renaissance times the Sarmatians were commonly thought to be a branch of the Huns.
The textile body-tights have a similar source. Tight-fitting trousers of linen were used by several barbarian tribes in classical times. Blouses of a similar kind were also common. By the time of Trajan they had spread into the Roman army, and Roman auxiliaria[e] and legionaries are shown wearing them on the column of Trajanus, and also on the column of Marcus Aurelius. Such dresses are frequent in Raphael’s works in the Vatican stanze and a few examples are found in the cartoons for the Sistina tapestries.6↤ 6 See the figure of Heliodorus in The Expulsion of Heliodorus, the rider in the middle foreground of Leo the Great and Attila, and the soldier in the middle foreground of The Battle of Ostia. For the cartoons, see the figure in foreground left of The Death of Ananias, repr. John White, The Raphael Cartoons (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1972), pl. 4; see also pl. 13. They were a favorite formula with Giulio Romano and several other mannerists, and they are common in the works of some of Blake’s contemporaries, especially Fuseli. In view of Raphael’s practice of making sketches of the nude bodies for figures who were to appear draped in the finished pictures, the use of tight-fitting clothes was logical: it saved the maximum amount of work in drawing the nudes.
On p. 8, writing about the early engraving of Joseph of Arimathea, Lindsay identifies the direct source (the ultimate source being Michelangelo’s “Joseph of Arimathea” in The Crucifixion of Peter) as an engraving by “Béatrizat” (misprint for Nicolas Beatrizet) although Blake himself stated that he had copied “a drawing by Salviati after Michael Angelo.”7↤ 7 Keynes, Blake Studies, p. 28, pl. 14. Blake the engraver was likely to know the difference between a drawing and an engraving. If Blake was right in attributing the former to Salviati we cannot know, since it has not been traced. He seems to have had some doubts about the attribution; in another annotation he calls the work merely “an old Italian Drawing.”8↤ 8 G. Keynes, The Complete Writings of William Blake, (London 1966), p. 604; hereafter abbreviated K.
On p. 12 Lindsay calls into doubt the story about Blake and Moser. But he misses the fact that the issue at stake was not Florentine versus Venetian and Flemish painting, but sixteenth-century Italian engraving versus engravings of the Rubens and Le Brun workshops. Moser evidently disliked the “hard and dry” engravings after Raphael and Michelangelo by Marcantonio Raimondi, Agostino Veneziano, Giorgio Ghisi, etc., not Raphael and Michelangelo themselves, which Moser and Reynolds, of course, valued highly.
The date 1780 on the engraving Albion Rose should be treated with more caution than Lindsay allows. The only known state is signed and dated “WB inv 1780.” Most commentators, including Lindsay, find this date difficult to reconcile with the mature style of engraving and with the lettering and symbolism of the caption in the lower margin. I agree that the state must be dated after 1800, probably 1804. But unlike Lindsay I believe that an earlier state has existed, the date 1780 being the almost only survivor from the lost first state. The existence of an earlier state is supported by the color-printed versions. All color-prints by Blake which can be dated were done in or about 1795; the Huntington Library copy of Albion Rose is printed on paper watermarked 1794, which indicates a date for the print about 1795—Blake seldom kept large stores of paper, and was in a habit of using paper fresh.9↤ 9 As far as I am aware no one has yet made a systematic investigation of watermarks on paper used by Blake, or systematically compared dated watermarks with the accepted dates of Blake’s works on paper. The rule seems to be that whenever Blake needed a considerable amount of paper, he bought it fresh. His 537 watercolors for Young were begun in 1795, and the engravings from them were executed in 1796 and 1797; the only dated watermarks are 1794. The color-prints dated 1795 also have watermarks 1794. The first copies of Jerusalem, completed in 1819, have watermarks 1818 and 1819. But notice that many of the Dante watercolors of 1824-27 were done on paper watermarked “WELGAR 1796.” Several of the color-prints were printed from the same plates as the engravings. It is therefore possible that the color-printed versions of Albion Rose conceal an earlier state of the engraving. A description of the state was published by Essick in 1980, after the appearance of Lindsay’s book.
I also think that the signature on the known begin page 166 | state, “WB inv”, is a later addition. It is engraved in a different way from the date, is not quite on a line with it, and shows no signs of polishing or erasure, while marks of scraping are obvious on the date.
Then comes the question of Blake’s technique. Lindsay uncritically reproduces several mistakes by other writers, and is not quite up to date with recent research. This question will have to be dealt with more fully in a separate article, to be published later. The following remarks are only meant as a short abstract.
Lindsay is in error in thinking that Cumberland’s method of printing text from etched plates was a stereotype process (p. 31). Cumberland’s recipe for it in A New Review with Literary Curiosities and Literary Intelligence, 1784, and his letters describing the process to his brother about the same time, make it clear that Cumberland’s plates were done in ordinary etching on a wax-asphaltum-rosin ground, and printed in intaglio.10↤ 10 Article printed by Mona Wilson, The Life of William Blake (New York, 1969), p. 318. For the letters, see Keynes, Blake Studies, pp. 230 ff. Blake’s reference to a method for illuminated printing in An Island in the Moon was almost certainly to Cumberland’s method, not to Blake’s own, contrary to what Lindsay thinks.11↤ 11 Lindsay, p. 31. Cf. K 62. The ms. is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. For a facsimile, see Göran Malmqvist, William Blake En ö på månen (Stockholm, 1979); text, Swedish translation and facsimile of the ms. An Island was almost certainly written in the winter of 1784-85, and Blake himself wrote that he invented the stereotype process in 1788.12↤ 12 For dating of An Island, see G. E. Bentley Jr., William Blake’s Writings (Oxford, 1978), II, 1697-99, and David V. Erdman, Blake Prophet Against Empire (New York, 1969), pp. 90-92. Blake’s colophon to The Ghost of Abel (1822) reads: “W Blakes Original Stereotype was 1788” (K 781). Lindsay also neglects Blake’s only surviving stereotype plate, a fragment of a cancelled plate for America. As Robert Essick has shown, this plate was step-etched in order to hinder underbiting of the raised lines.13↤ 13 Robert N. Essick, “William Blake as an Engraver and Etcher,” William Blake in the Art of His Time, exhib. cat. (University of California: Santa Barbara Art Galleries, 1976), pp. 16 ff. Repr. also by Bentley, William Blake’s Writings (Oxford, 1978), p. 154. For Blake’s pull of the cancelled plate before cutting it up, ibid., p. 152. Since stereotype etching was known before Blake’s time,14↤ 14 A stereotype process is described in anon., Valuable Secrets Concerning Arts and Trades, London 1758, ch. 1. This work, translated from the French, had seen seven English editions by 1810. his invention was likely to have been of a method for step-etching the plates, and not of “an ink impervious to acid,” as Lindsay thinks.15↤ 15 Lindsay, p. 32. This supposition is an unacknowledged quotation from Bentley, Blake Records (Oxford, 1969), p. 32 n. 1. It is wrong. Stoppers have been known as long as etching has been practiced. Their composition differs and I cannot here attempt and hypothetical reconstruction of the composition of Blake’s stopper. See also Blake Records, p. 460 n. 1.
Lindsay also writes that the reason for Blake’s rejection of oil painting was his inability to handle oil paint, an inability which he rationalized by condemning oil as an inferior medium.16↤ 16 Lindsay, p. 38. He also says that Blake’s alternative to oil painting was the color-printing process.17↤ 17 Lindsay, p. 38. In my opinion both statements are incorrect.
In the eighteenth century most artists found oils difficult to handle. For this reason Reynolds, for instance, introduced a variety of binders into his paintings: egg white, gum, wax, mastic dissolved in spirits of turpentine, copaiba balsam, and meguilp (a mixture of mastic dissolved in boiling oil with lead siccative), often with disastrous results.18↤ 18 A Collection of memoranda by Reynolds, listing the different binders, pigments and protective varnishes used for many of his works, is printed by Charles Lock Eastlake, Materials for a History of Oil Painting, I (London, 1847); Dover reprint under the title Methods & Materials of Painting (New York, 1960), pp. 539-44. It is common knowledge that paintings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are often in a worse state of preservation than earlier works, due to the heterogenous mixtures used in their composition. For the same reason they are often difficult or impossible to clean and restore.19↤ 19 See Helmut Ruhemann, The Cleaning of Paintings (London, 1968), pp. 202-03, 205, 231, and Ralph Mayer, The Artist’s Handbook (New York, 1945), pp. 18-23. Examples abound among the works of even the greatest painters: Chardin, Pilo, Reynolds, Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, Daumier.
The main difficulty in handling oils and achieving a reasonbly permanent result is incurred by the drying of the vegetable oils. This process is slow compared with that of aqueous paint. All the oils used in painting dry because of a chemical reaction with atmospheric oxygen; they “burn” dry, and at the same time they increase in weight up to 26%, and also in volume.20↤ 20 The great pioneer works on the drying of oils are by Alexander Eibner, Sorung und Rissbildung an trocknenden Ölfarbenaufstrichen und auf Ölbildern (Munich, 1920); Über fette Öle (Munich, 1922); Entwicklung und Werkstoffe der Tafelmilerei (Munich, 1928), esp. ch. 1; “The Yellowing of Oil Films and Its Prevention,” Paint and Varnish Production Manager, 13 (1935), 7-11. See also Rutherford J. Gettens and George L. Stout, Painting Materials A Short Encyclopedia (New York, 1942); Dover reprint (New York, 1966), pp. 36-46; George L. Stout, The Care of Pictures (New York, 1948); Dover reprint (New York, 1975), pp. 11-12; and Ruhemann, The Cleaning of Paintings, pp. 101, 114, 243-44, 388-89. This process is complicated by the metal salts used as pigments. Some of them, containing lead, copper, mangan or cobalt, make the drying faster; others, containing zinc, aluminum, quicksilver or cadmium, slow it down.21↤ 21 Stout, The Care of Pictures. p. 40. Some combine—to varying degrees—with the fatty acids in the oils, forming soaps, which make the layers increasingly transparent, and cause underlayers to show through.22↤ 22 Saponification changes the refractive index of the film. Paints containing such pigments must be applied thicker than at first seems necessary.
It therefore becomes very difficult for the artist to calculate the variety of chemical reactions going on in a drying oil painting. Yet, if he intends to achieve any perfection of detail in a work too large to be completed in a single sitting, then he will have to apply several coats of paint, one on top of the other, over a long period of time. It will then be necessary for him to use only rapidly drying pigments in the undercoats (white lead, verdigris, umber, cobalt blue), and reserve the slowly drying pigments for the top layers (zinc white, organic dyes precipitated on alum, vermilion, cadmium yellow). He will also have to calculate the drying times of mixtures of rapid and slow driers, such as white lead and vermilion, or cobalt blue and cadmium yellow. Any neglect of the different drying times of different paints will result in over-long waiting for underlayers to dry, will cause solvent action on insufficiently dried layers, sinking in, soiling, discoloration, and erratic changes of chroma and light values. It will also, for obvious reasons, produce cracking. A coat rapid in drying applied on top of a coat slow in drying will crack, because the latter will go on combining with oxygen long after the former has ceased to do so; it will swell underneath the already hard layer, and crack and dislocate it. The addition of substances meant to equalize drying speed[e] (driers to slow-drying pigments, retarders to fast-drying pigments) is likely to complicate the processes beyond calculation, and cause more problems than it was meant to solve.
In the middle ages oil painting was known at least from the eleventh century, but for works of high quality aqueous binders were preferred. This was made clear by R. E. Raspe in his A Critical Essay on Oil Painting; proving that the Art of Painting in Oil was known before the pretended discovery of John and Hubert van Eyck; to which are added Theophilus De Arte Pingendi, Eraclius De Artibus Romanorum. And a review of Farinator’s Lumen Animae, London, 1781. Theophilos’s work, now known by its authentic title De diversis artibus, is generally dated to the early twelfth century, though Raspe dated it earlier, and it contains an account of how to make linseed oil and how to use it for painting.23↤ 23 Theophilos Presbyter, De diversis artibus, ch. 20 (The making of linseed oil), ch. 21 (The making of a varnish by boiling sandarac in linseed oil), ch. 25-26 (How to grind colors in oil or gum, and how to apply them), ch. 24, 27 (How to paint in oils on metal foil). For a modern edition, see C. R. Dodwell, Theophilos De Diversis artibus (London, 1961). An error in Dodwell’s translation of chapter 25, headed “De coloribus oleo et gvmmi terendis” (p. 24), should be pointed out. Theophilos refers to pigments which can be ground either with linseed oil or gum, not with an emulsion of oil in a solution of gum in water, as Dodwell mistakenly believes, since he translates “gummi” as “this [drying] medium” (the brackets are Dodwell’s) or “medium.” It should be “gum.” For a discussion of mss. and former editions, see Dodwell, pp. liv-lxix. Heraclius (early eleventh century) also mentions oil painting in his third book. Farinator’s Lumen animae was written in Vienna in the early fourteenth century, and printed in Augsburg, 1477; it contains several quotations from Theophilus, though nothing on oil painting.
Blake is likely to have known this book. When he wrote, in his Descriptive Catalogue, that he will inquire “in another work on Painting . . . who first begin page 167 | forged the silly story and known falsehood, about John of Bruges [Jan van Eyck] inventing oil colours,” he was probably referring to Raspe’s work.24↤ 24 Descr. Cat. 2, K 565. Blake’s own treatise on painting having disappeared,25↤ 25 A work by Blake describing his technical inventions in art certainly existed, and was close to publication in 1809, though it disappeared later. It is mentioned for the first time in Blake’s letter to Butts 10 Jan. 1802 (K 812), and again in his letter to Cumberland 19 Dec. 1808 (K 865), where he says that he has begun to print it, and has a publisher for it. It is referred to again in his advertisement for the 1809 exhibition (K 561). It cannot be identical with the Descriptive Catalogue, for it is mentioned in it (K 565). Cumberland refers to it in two notes 1807, and in a letter to Blake 18 Dec. 1808 he volunteers to “prepare it for the Press” (Blake Records, pp. 187, 188, 211 f.; see also p. 211 n. 1). we can only guess about its contents; but if he had read Raspe he must have known that Theophilos did not recommend oils for works of high quality, and complained of the tedious waiting for undercoats to dry.26↤ 26 Theophilos, De diversis artibus, ch. 25: “because each time that you apply a colour, you cannot apply another over it until the first has dried. On figures this is a particularly long and tedious process.” (Dodwell’s translation in his ed. of Theophilos, p. 24). I agree with Dodwell’s translation of “imagines” as “figures,” not “pictures.” Notice also that Raspe, A Critical Essay on Oil Painting (1781) describes a ground of glue and chalk similar to that used by Blake, and says that it is found underlying the colors on Egyptian mummy-cases, and is common in medieval painting (pp. 22, 25). The making of a hide glue identical with the carpenter’s glue of more recent times is described by Theophilos in ch. 18, and the laying of a ground of glue and chalk (or, alternatively, of burnt gypsum) in ch. 19. Blake could have got his recipe for the chalk ground from this source. Cf. also my n. 23. The “forger” alluded to by Blake must have been Giorgio Vasari, who was the first writer to ascribe the invention of oil colors to Jan van Eyck.27↤ 27 Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architetori, ed. Milanesi (Florence, 1878-1885), II, 564, ff. (Life of Antonello da Messina). Since Blake wrote that “Oil was not used, except by blundering ignorance, till after Vandyke’s time,”28↤ 28 Descr. Cat. 2, K 566. he must have thought that the binding medium employed by the van Eycks was aqueous. He believed that all the old easel paintings were in “fresco,” by which term he meant “Water Colours,”29↤ 29 For Blake’s definition of fresco as watercolors, see K 561, 563, 577. For this reason Blake wrote that there was “no difference between Rafael’s Cartoons and his frescos” (K 584). It is hardly necessary to point out that Blake’s use of the term “fresco” is idiosyncratic. that is, painting with any aqueous binder. This view was by no means stupid, and was later shared by many scholars, notably by Doerner, who thought that the invention of the van Eycks was an emulsion of oil and resin in egg, which binder could be thinned with water.30↤ 30 Max Doerner, The Materials of the Artist (London, 1976), pp. 329-36, with a summary on pp. 335-36. The first English edition (translation by Eugen Neuhaus) was 1934, the first German edition 1921. The passage on van Eyck is similar in all editions I have seen. Not until 1950, when Paul Coremans restored The Adoration of the Lamb at Ghent, was it finally proved that the van Eycks painted in oils.31↤ 31 See Paul Coreman, “L’ Agneau Mystique au laboratoire,” Les primitifs Flamands, II (Antwerp, 1953), pub. in shortened form in Studies in Conservation (Oct. 1954), pp. 145 ff., and in Museum IV (1951).
Oil is also known to yellow in drying. A paint rich in oil will yellow more than a lean one. But a lean paint will be too thick to handle. The addition of a thinner such as spirits of turpentine would be expedient, but this, if added to top layers, would greatly increase the dangers of solvent action on newly dried coats, and also of sinking in and darkening. The use of resinous solutions, either as intermediary varnishes between coats, or as additions to the paints used for top layers, would increase viscosity and thus hinder the undercoats from absorbing the medium from the top coat—and this absorption is the cause of most of the troubles mentioned above. However, even if resins are slower in yellowing than the oils, they in the end yellow more, and they also make the film brittle and thus increase the risk of cracking, as well as of yellowing.32↤ 32 Alexander Eibner, Entwicklung und Werkstoffe der Malerei, p. 175 and Appendix E. This was known already to Leonardo, who wrote that resin varnishes “col lungo tenpo pigliano vn cierto giallo che pende in nero” (“with time acquire a certain yellow [hue] which tends to brown”), J. P. Richter, ed., The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci (1883; New York, 1970), I, §634.
For this reason the old masters often chose an aqueous binder for pigments especially likely to be altered by the yellowing of the oil, such as the blues. In the Ghent altarpiece by van Eyck, otherwise painted in oil, the ultramarine mantle of the Virgin was found to have been painted in gum;33↤ 33 Above, n. 31. van Dyck told Theodore de Mayerne that he often painted his blues with an aqueous binder, and he also knew how to make gum adhere to an oily surface by means of juice of garlic, and how to make such a paint waterproof by passing a varnish over it.34↤ 34 Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, Pictorja Sculptorja & quae subalternarum artium, 1620 (the ms. was begun at that date), p. 153, BM Sloane MS 2052; ed. Ernst Berger in Beiträge zur Entwickelungsgeschichte der Malerei, IV (Munich, 1901), pp. 336-38.
The old masters understood the problems created by oily vehicles and knew how to solve them, but with the rise of Academies, which taught no mean handicrafts, and the simultaneous decline of workshop education for artists, the old rules were soon forgotten, and the oil painters found themselves entangled in difficulties.35↤ 35 The rules could be summarized thus: make undercoats strong in binding, rapid in drying, hard and lean. Make top coats weak in binding, slow in drying, soft, fat. The old masters knew which binders and which pigments were suitable for undercoats, which for top coats; which pigments were compatible with which binders, and which pigments could not be mixed with each other. The “secret” of their success was not something that could be kept in a bottle; it was the result of knowledge, training and skill. See Cennini’s introduction to his list of pigments (ch. 35, Milanesi ed., p. 49): “let us come to the grinding of colours, showing you which colours are the finest, and the coarsest, and the worst; which one wants to be ground or worked up little, which one much; which one wants one binder, which one wants another; and just as they differ in their colours, so they do in the natures of their binders, and in grinding.” In ch. 56 (p. 60) he warns against the mixture of verdigris and white lead, and in ch. 117 (p. 97) he says that the lower layers in gessoing ought to be stronger in binding, “because the gesso grosso [undercoat] is your foundation for everything.” Oil had become a hindrance to free and easy execution and a danger to the preservation of pictures, or, as Blake wrote, “a fetter to genius and a dungeon to art.”36↤ 36 K 566.
The easiest way out of these difficulties would be to paint alla prima, never or seldom having to add any paint on top of a layer already completed. Not surprisingly, this method became more and more dominant during the nineteenth century. In the hands of the impressionists it led to a sketchy manner, but it is possible to paint a large, detailed painting alla prima, completing it piece by piece, as in fresco. This method was used by Caspar David Friedrich, Adolf von Menzel, Wilhelm Leibl, William Holman Hunt and, in his early works, by J. E. Millais.37↤ 37 The alla prima technique of the pre-raphaelites is described by William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1905-06), I, 276. For the technique of the Germans, see Kurt Wehlte, Werkstoffe und Techniken der Malerei, (Ravensburg, 1967), pp. 662-66, repr. of an unfinished alla prima painting by Adolph von Menzel, B58.56.03.1 (original destroyed in World War II). Such a mode of painting, of course, makes the calculation of the effect of the whole difficult. Extensive retouching afterwards is often found necessary, and thus the advantages of the method are lost.
Blake’s easy way out was to discard oil altogether, and to use an aqueous paint instead. He seems to have had a good reason to do so. Such paints dry uniformly with the evaporation of water, and the painter may disregard the differences in drying times which cause such problems in oil painting. Aqueous paints do not yellow either.
To this purpose Blake adopted carpenter’s glue, dissolved in warm water. Admittedly he used the same binder for his color-prints, some of which he marked “fresco.”38↤ 38 The Metropolitan Museum (New York) copy of God Judging Adam is signed “Fresco. WBlake inv.,” and the Victoria and Albert Museum copy of Naomi “Fresco WBlake.” This shows that Tatham was wrong when he supposed the color-prints were printed in oil (Blake Records, pp. 33 f.; Gilchrist, 1942, p. 366). Note that, according to John Linnell, the account of the oil printing process was inaccurate (Blake Records, p. 34 n. 1). But since he seems to have experimented with color-printing only for a short time about 1795,39↤ 39 None of the large color-prints bears any date other than 1795; some are printed on paper watermarked 1794; but many are undated. In one copy of the color-printed Small Book of Designs the date of the title of Urizen, 1794, has been changed to 1796. See Bentley, Blake Books (Oxford, 1977), the sections on the illuminated works, which show that color-printed copies, whenever they can be dated with any certainty, were printed 1794-96. it can hardly be described as Blake’s “alternative” to oil painting, as Lindsay calls it. Glue as a painting medium was recommended by Vitruvius,40↤ 40 Vitruvius, VII.X.2. Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius The Ten Books on Architecture (Harvard Univ. Press, 1914), Dover reprint (New York, 1960), p. 218. and also by Cennino Cennini.41↤ 41 Cennino Cennini, Il libro dell’ arte o Trattato della pittura, ch. 109, recommends “colla di caravella,” made from goat’s muzzles, hoofs and clippings of skin, as a binder for pigments, “in temperar colori,” and also for carpenter’s work “attacar legni, far liuti,” and as a binder for grounds “temperar gessi”—see Tambroni ed. (1821), pp. 94-95; Milanesi ed. (1859; 1975), p. 92. Blake is known to have read Linnell’s copy of the Tambroni ed.; see Blake Records, p. 33 n. 3, where Cennini’s name is misspelled “Ceninni.” It was used by Raphael for his cartoons, now at the Victoria and Albert Museum.42↤ 42 John White, The Raphael Cartoons (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1972), p. 5. It is a sound technique, but one has to remember that a painting in glue should never be varnished with the varnishes commonly employed for giving a protective top coat to oil paintings.43↤ 43 Ruhemann, The Cleaning of Paintings, pp. 269-70. Oil or any thin varnish will turn such a picture yellow, as Catherine Blake told Lord Egremont in a letter recently published by Bentley.44↤ 44 G. E. Bentley, Jr., “Blake’s Shadow,” Times Literary Supplement, 17 March 1978, p. 320. The composition of Blake’s own varnish is not known, but Catherine and Tatham described it as “white” (i.e. colorless), hard and of Blake’s own making.45↤ 45 Blake Records, p. 517, and above, n. 44. Blake could have used either egg white or bee’s wax, though the latter could not properly be called “hard,” or a composition of resin and wax viscous enough not to penetrate into the paint.
Caution in varnishing is especially important if the distemper or glue painting contains white pigments consisting of whiting, i.e., chalk. Oily or resinous varnishes will be absorbed by the chalk, which makes it transparent and brown, like putty (Blake used that word46↤ 46 “It [oil] turns every permanent white to a yellow and brown putty,” 566. Note the force of the word “permanent.” Blake did not consider white lead a permanent white because, unprotected by an oily vehicle, it is known to blacken. )—and the putty commonly used for fastening window glass is nothing but linseed oil and chalk. Blake knew this; he adopted whiting or chalk, and wrote that oil painting “has compelled the use of that destroyer of color, white lead.”47↤ 47 K 566. Further proof that Blake did not use white lead is given by Tatham: “he has touched the lights with white compound of whiting & glue, of which material he laid the ground of his panel” (Blake Records, p. 515). Whiting (chalk) is, of course, much more permanent than white lead, if an oil-free and resin-free vehicle is used; but if such a painting is varnished, the whites are instantly killed. He was right. White lead was the only white pigment in general use in his day that would not absorb oil, and thus remain white and opaque when mixed with an oily vehicle.
I am sure that the chief cause of the darkening of many of Blake’s paintings in glue is inexpert varnishing after Blake’s time.48↤ 48 Consider the large color-prints: those that have been varnished (for instance Christ Appearing, in the Tate) are as brown as the “frescos” of Nelson and Pitt, while the unvarnished ones are in a perfect condition. For this reason I do not believe, as Lindsay does (p. 129), that Blake begin page 168 | was influenced by Rembrandt; the Rembrandtesque brown chiaroscuro in some of Blake’s “temperas” was produced, not by Blake himself, but by unskilled varnishers of the mid nineteenth century.
Since Blake knew that “the nature of gum was to crack” if applied in thick, opaque layers,49↤ 49 According to Tatham, confirmed by J. T. Smith, Blake Records, pp. 517, 472. it is obvious that he used the glue precisely in order to be able to paint thick, and to cover underlayers with more or less opaque top coats. Glue would have given him no advantages in painting traditional, transparent watercolors on paper. For this reason I think that he employed the ordinary gum (either gum arabic or gum tragacanth) for normal watercolor drawings. Gum can be applied cold, which is a great advantage, while the glue-water has to be used warm; otherwise it would gelatinize to an unmanageable jelly.
According to J. T. Smith Blake knew that top layers in glue painting should be “more dilute” than the ground layers,50↤ 50 Blake Records, p. 472. which is true—the reverse would produce cracking and flaking. Blake also said that glue was less sensitive to changes in atmospheric moisture than gum.51↤ 51 Blake Records, p. 472. This means that he must have added a hardener to the glue. The addition of alum to glue in order to make it more water-resistant and less hygroscopic was ordinary workshop practice in Blake’s day.52↤ 52 See Ralph Mayer, The Artist’s Handbook (1945), pp. 370-71.
All this shows that Blake’s technique was rational and sound. I only have doubts about his invention of the “Portable Fresco,” which he described as “a Wall on Canvas or Wood.”53↤ 53 Advertisement of Exhibition 1809, K 560. A thick ground of whiting and glue on canvas is extremely apt to crack, as Linnell remarked.54↤ 54 Blake Records, p. 33 n. 3. Blake himself seems to have noticed this, for in the 1820s he began to use very thin grounds.55↤ 55 See Count Ugolino (c. 1826, Keynes Coll.), The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (c. 1826, Tate), Satan Smiting Job (c. 1826, Tate), The Arlington Court Picture (signed and dated 1821, on thin chalk ground on paper), The Faerie Queene (c. 1825, National Trust, Petworth House). Cf. Martin Butlin, William Blake, Tate Gallery exhib. cat. (1978), nos. 311, 312, 313, 307, 310.
Minor suggestions and corrections.
Lindsay’s book is, on the whole, carefully proof-read. It is odd, however, that personal names are often found in an incorrect form: Scamuzzi for Scamozzi (p. 16), Behman for Behmen (p. 40), Schöngauer for Schongauer (p. 171), Béatrizat for Beatrizet (p. 8), Woolett for Woollett (p. 213, fn.; Lindsay has silently reproduced Blake’s misspelling of the name in the Public Address). Once even the sex of an unfortunate artist is changed, as in Antonina de Messina for Antonello da Messina (p. 171).
Sometimes Lindsay’s handling of source material is careless. The story of William’s and Catherine’s courtship (p. 481) is quoted from Tatham and Lindsay adds that he must have based his account on what Catherine herself told him. But Tatham’s biographical sketch is written on paper watermarked 183(2?), and the same story appears, partly verbatim, in J. T. Smith, 1828 (Smith quotes “a friend”), and in Cunningham, 1830. There is, of course, a possibility that the friend Smith quoted was indeed Tatham, but this should not be taken for granted.56↤ 56 See Blake Records, pp. 517, 459, 481.
Lindsay seems to believe (p. 33) that the two states of the engraving Job are two separate platès.
The reference on p. 34 f. to W. Meredith’s Commonplace Book is unsatisfactory, and the book is not in the bibliography. In general, Lindsay’s notes and bibliography seem to have been written more for the convenience of the author than for that of the reader. The foreshortenings are cumbersome, and misspellings occur, such as N. D. Paley for Morton D. Paley, and Acta Academiae Absensis (lovely!) for Acta Academiae Aboensis.
Misprints in references to and quotations from Blake’s writings may occasionally cause confusion. On p. 212 Lindsay makes Blake say that his art was that of “Dürer and the engravers.” This is rather pointless. What Blake wrote in his Public Address was that his technique of engraving was that of “Alb Durers Histories & the old Engravers,”57↤ 57 Notebook, p. 51 (K 592). meaning, as the context shows, sixteenth century engraving as opposed to that of the eighteenth century print industry.
It is not clear why Lindsay, on p. 225, calls The Everlasting Gospel “The Everlasting Mercy,” but many of his remarks earlier on the contents of the poem are just and sound. Yet he goes too far when he says that the poem “shows no concern for the texts of the New Testament.” Actually it consists mainly of allusions to it and quotations from it. Admittedly Blake’s interpretation of Christ’s teaching differs from that of most Christian congregations, but that does not necessarily mean that they are without foundation in the Bible. It should be observed, also, that the most outrageous interpretation of Christ’s teaching and character is put into the mouth of Caiphas.
The quotation on p. 49 f., “Each man . . . ,” is given in an incorrect form, and on p. 194 “then” is substituted for “thus” in a quote from the Notebook. And why, indeed, does Lindsay identify Blake’s Jesus in the 1790s with Theotormon? In the Song of Los Blake wrote: “And Jesus . . . recievd A Gospel from wretched Theotormon.”58↤ 58 K 246. The two characters are clearly separate here.
On p. 131 Lindsay quotes the annotation “Blake Dim’d with Superstition” on Blake’s letter to Trusler of 23 August 1799 as if it were by Trusler, although it is, according to Keynes, in George Cumberland’s hand.59↤ 59 Keynes, Blake Studies, p. 252.
On p. 213 Lindsay quotes Blake’s remark “Models are difficult - enslave one.” He misunderstands imaginative art when he criticizes Blake for never asking “if the conception should not be strong enough to stand up against nature.” This is exactly what Blake demanded of art, and the reason why he rejected working from models. If a work of art is copied from nature, and thus is dependent on it, how can it stand up against it? If someone really wants to be imaginative, he certainly has to sacrifice some of the charms of nature.
On p. 141 Lindsay uncritically reproduces an error of editing on the part of Bentley, Blake Records, p. 83, when he quotes the quatrains by Hayley, in which the author invokes his dead son to inspirit Blake and steady “a Failing Brother’s Hand & Eyes or temper his eccentric Soul.” As Bentley carefully points out, the manuscript clearly has “Foiling.” According to the OED this word means begin page 169 | “Baffling, disappointing.” In my view “foiling” makes excellent sense in this context, and I can see no need for the substitution “failing.”
Is Blake’s accusation that Hayley despised his designs “completely untrue” as Lindsay writes on p. 156? Already the quatrains quoted above show that Hayley did not find Blake’s hand and eye quite to his taste, or his eccentricity tempered enough. It is quite clear that he tried to instruct Blake and correct his engraving, and he asked him to alter the expression of the mouth in the engraving after Flaxman’s medallion of Thomas Hayley, to give the impression of “gay juvenility.”60↤ 60 Blake Records, pp. 65 f., 69-71, repr. pl. 11. Blake obeyed, and produced an awkward dawb at the corner of the mouth. Hayley did not defend Blake against those who criticized him; instead he tried to excuse him, as his letters to Lady Hesketh show.61↤ 61 Blake Records, pp. 105 f., 162, 163 f. The main cause of tension between Blake and many of his friends, including Hayley, was that they tried to curb his imagination, for which they had no use, and make him a portrait painter, a reproductive engraver, and an illustrator of literary works (such as Hayley’s), which Blake knew were inferior to his own poems. No wonder that Blake got annoyed, and could not be as grateful as he tried to be, or as his friends thought he ought to be.
I do not believe, either, that Scolfield’s accusation against Blake “bears every mark of truth” (p. 160). Indeed Blake would have been likely to damn the king and call his soldiers slaves but in this case there were too many witnesses who, despite threats by Scolfield and his companion, testified that they had heard no seditious words spoken—and Scolfield’s only witness was proved not to have been present at all, but asleep in a stable, and only to have come out after the witnesses had gathered at the stable door.
Blake’s later accusation against Hayley for having “hired” Scolfield to “bereave” Blake’s life,62↤ 62 K 544. was, of course, groundless and inexcusable, as shown by Hayley’s exemplary conduct at the time of trial.
Such suspicions can be explained only by the paranoid sense of persecution which Blake developed around 1806-1809; I agree with Lindsay so far that I believe Blake was not in his right mind from about 1806 to about 1818, during which time he quarrelled with most of his friends and lived in isolation for long periods of time.
Moreover, the “Long Poem” describing Blake’s “Spiritual Acts of [his] three Years’ Slumber on the banks of the Ocean” comprising “an immense number of Verses on One Grand Theme” and written “from immediate Dictation” (letter to Butts 25 April 1803) is certainly the lost manuscript of Jerusalem. It consisted of twenty-four books, but one cannot be sure if these books were as long as the four eventually printed. Note that chapter 1 originally ended at pl. 14. Jerusalem, as we know it today, could well be a compact version, edited on the basis of the entire manuscript, which must have been completed at Felpham, since the engraving of it was begun at South Molton Street in 1804. In the preface to the printed version Blake refers to his “three years slumber on the banks of the Ocean,” and says that “this Verse” was “dictated” to him. And the poem begins: “Of the Sleep of Ulro! and of the passage through / Eternal Death! and of the waking to Eternal Life. / This theme calls me in sleep night after night, & evry morn / Awakes me at sun-rise.” All this is in agreement with what Blake told Butts in his letter; therefore the two works are the same. The letter cannot refer to the The Four Zoas, dated on the title-page 1797, although this manuscript was revised and added to later, probably at Felpham.
However, Milton should not be excluded from consideration on account of its shortness. The printed two books, comprising about 1600 lines, are only a fragment of the twelve books planned, as shown by the title, where “12” has been changed to “2.” The manuscript could have had as many as 9600 lines. It is indeed possible that Milton and Jerusalem are editions of portions of one single manuscript, as long as the Iliad or the Odyssey. According to Henry Crabb Robinson, Blake had “six or seven mss. as long as Homer” and “20 tragedies as long as Macbeth.” Here the problem is in distinguishing existing manuscripts at least one of which was seen by Crabb Robinson, from other works only produced in the spiritual world.63↤ 63 Robinson wrote to Dorothy Wordsworth 16 Feb. 1826 that Blake’s “MSS. are immense in quantity” (Blake Records, p. 324). He must have seen at least one of them 18 Feb. 1826 when he wrote in his diary: “I inquired abot. his writings—[‘]I have written more than Voltaire or Rousseau—Six or Seven Epic poems as long as Homer and 20 Tragedies as long as Macbeth[.’] He shewed me his Version (for so it may be called) of Genesis—‘as understood by a Christian Visionary’ in which in [the del.] a style resemblg the Bible—The spirit is given[;] he read a passage at random[.] It was striking” (Blake Records, p. 322). Cunningham, also, wrote that Blake “has left volumes of verse, amounting, it is said, to nearly an hundred, prepared for the press” (Blake Records, p. 506). Merely because Blake sometimes composed verses which he did not bother to write down, one should not suppose—as Lindsay does—that none of Blake’s lost works were ever written down on paper. There must at least have been manuscripts for the printed works, but not one of them has survived.
Since we know that Tatham burned several of Blake’s manuscripts, it is reasonable to suppose that he was responsible for the destruction of most, if not all, of the lost works.64↤ 64 See Bentley, Blake Books, pp. 479-84, and Blake Records, p. 414 n. 3. We also have every reason to believe that the lost six books of The French Revolution were actually written by 1791, as Blake himself explicitly stated.65↤ 65 “The remaining Books of this Poem are finished, and will be published in their Order,” says the advertisement of The French Revolution, and Blake and Johnson had no reason to lie (K 134). When Lindsay thinks that Blake’s lost works never existed in writing, he seems to have been misled by his own thesis that Blake “published” his works mainly for the spirits. On p. 235 he adds that Blake needed to believe in angels and devils “as a projection of the missing audience which he feels to be potentially present.” This is a possible explanation, especially in view of some of Blake’s remarks to Crabb Robinson, but I wonder if an entirely different explanation is not even more probable: because Blake believed in angels and devils, his lack of a fit audience was less severely felt. Thus, what Lindsay thinks is the cause, in my opinion is the effect.
On the whole, Lindsay is not in sympathy with the “spiritual” side of Blake. It is true that most educated people today do not believe in spirits, and consequently Blake’s belief in spirits means little to us. If we otherwise sympathize with Blake, as Lindsay does, we are inclined to hope that the spirits did not mean very much to Blake either. But I am quite sure that they did. Blake believed in the existence of angels and devils; they were as real to him as Leonid Bresnev or Jane Fonda are real to us. I do not think it is possible to understand Blake unless this fact is recognized.
Notwithstanding Lindsay’s lack of interest in the spirits, his section on Blake’s visions is sound begin page 170 | (pp. 228 ff.). He also describes a personal experience from 1931, when he, after a fortnight of fasting, “saw the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet,” and he quotes Jaensch’s definition of eidetic phenomena from Morton D. Paley’s Energy and the Imagination.
Lindsay quotes Keynes’ suggestion that the vision of The Ghost of the Flea (1819) was based on an engraving of a flea in Hooke’s Micrographia.66↤ 66 Repr. Keynes, Blake Studies, pl. 33. I cannot see much resemblance. However, if one examines the background monsters in Blake’s illustrations of 1797-98 of Gray’s Poems, no. 18 for the Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,67↤ 67 See Irene Tayler, Blake’s Illustrations to the Poems of Gray (1971). one is immediately struck by the resemblance of one of them to the Ghost of a Flea. Thus, in 1819, Blake saw a vision of his own illustration of one of the “murderous band” that stand in ambush around the playing children “to seize their prey”; one of the “monsters of human fate / And black Misfortune’s baleful train.” This agrees very well with Jaensch’s definition of one of the main types of eidetic vision, namely that which consists of “modified after-images.”
Titles, dates and descriptions of Blake’s pictorial works are sometimes wrong. The date of the color-print Elohim Creating Adam should be 1795 (p. 80). Lindsay is wrong when he says (p. 100) that the color-print God Judging Adam is lost; there are copies at the Tate, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.68↤ 68 Butlin, William Blake, exhib. cat. 1978, nos. 87-89. As Butlin has shown, the Tate Gallery copy bears the inscription “God Judging Adam” (under the mount).69↤ 69 Martin Butlin, “Blake’s ‘God Judging Adam’ Rediscovered,” Burlington Magazine, 107 (1965), 86-89; and Butlin, William Blake A Complete Catalogue of the Works in the Tate Gallery, (1971), no. 15. This work was mistakenly given the title “Elijah in the Fiery Chariot” by W. M. Rossetti in 1863, yet Lindsay still thinks that a work with that title exists. To add to the confusion Lindsay has invented one more subject which never existed, called by him “Adam Cast Out by God.” These two ghosts should be immediately cast out of Blake’s oeuvre.
On p. 54, n., The Book of Enoch is listed among the sources for Thel, but it is unlikely that Blake knew anything about the book before 1789, although he illustrated the first English translation of it, which appeared in 1821.70↤ 70 Allan R. Brown, “Blake’s Drawings for the Book of Enoch,” Burlington Magazine, 77 (Sept. 1940), 80-85. The lithograph Enoch, 1807, was based on the short text on Enoch in Genesis 5:24.
Why does Lindsay say (p. 68) that the old blind and lame man in Jerusalem pl. 84 is led to an open door? He is led into a square with two churches in the background, one resembling Westminster Abbey, the doors of which are shut, the other resembling St. Paul’s, the doors of which are not shown. Moreover, I cannot see any “inkhorn at his side.”
Dates and imprints on engravings should be treated with caution. Especially in commercial engraving it was often found convenient to use a date different from that of actual publication, if, for instance, publication was delayed beyond the date planned when the engravings were executed. Thus they cannot be used to estimate how fast an engraver was in completing his plates, especially since engravers were in the habit of putting the same date on different engravings meant for the same publication, even if the engravings were finished at different times. Yet Lindsay does this on p. 227.
Incidentally, the same caution applies to dates in watermarks. The dates on Whatman papers generally agree with the date when the sheets were formed on the molds, but other papermakers sometimes used old molds with watermark dates, without bothering to change the date.71↤ 71 Dard Hunter, Papermaking The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York, 1943, 1947, 1974), pp. 264-65.
Erdman’s opinion about the “irony” in Nelson and Pitt is quoted on p. 204, the argument being that these paintings, far from being apotheoses of Pitt and Nelson, are really concealed lampoons against them. Lindsay says that Blake, if Erdman is right, managed to conceal his real feelings completely, and suspects that Blake, anxious for state support, deliberately posed as a patriotic propagandist for the war against France. If he is right in this—and I agree that Lindsay’s view is more reasonable than Erdman’s—then these paintings were meant to be what Blake himself called them, grand apotheoses of the real heroes of the nation. It is clear from the vehement attack in The Examiner that contemporaries[e] thought that Blake supported the war policy. If this is so, Erdman’s interpretation is wrong. In these works Blake meant to celebrate the heroes of the British nation. The only relevant question that remains is whether Blake was honest or not in painting these apotheoses. Had his opinions about France changed, or was he merely trying to make himself acceptable to those in power? I am glad to see that Lindsay asks this straightforward question, but I am not sure that I agree with his answer that Blake deliberately lied in the hope of getting a government commission.
It has to be observed that England, which in the 1790s had been an accomplice in the crusade against the French republic, now waged a war on the Napoleonic empire. After 1804 Napoleon fitted Blake’s description of “a Tyrant crownd,” and at least after that date—or perhaps already from 1799 when Napoleon abolished the democratic institutions in France and declared himself First Consul—Pitt and Nelson could be seen in a new light, as angels pleased to perform the divine command to crush that tyrant. Blake’s exalted hopes in the peace negotiations of 1801-180272↤ 72 Letter to Flaxman, 19 Oct. 1801 (K 810). had already come to nought in 1803, when the French conquered the formerly British Hannover. In 1804 Napoleon caused the Spanish declaration of war on Britain. The war of 1805 was clearly provoked by the French, who in 1803 had already planned an invasion of England. The only witness who, in 1803, had heard William and Catherine Blake volunteer to cut throats with Napoleon, was the proven liar John Scolfield.
In a letter to Hayley 28 May 1804 Blake criticized the French for idolizing Bonaparte, and in 1815 Cumberland wrote that “Blake says he is fearful they will make too great a Man of Napoleon and enable him to come to this country.”73↤ 73 Blake Records, p. 236. That Blake condemned the British attack on Copenhagen in 180774↤ 74 See David V. Erdman, Blake Prophet Against Empire, pp. 452 f., and n. 52. does not mean that he thought the war against Napoleon unjustified. He could well have disliked the government’s organized graft in selling army commissions, and yet deemed resistance to the French imperialism necessary. If we today condemn the British colonization of India, or the allied bombardment of Dresden in the second world war, it does not mean that we think that Britain and France should never have resisted Hitler.begin page 171 |
I can understand that many commentators find it hard to agree that the author of Jerusalem could ever have found the British war against Napoleon justified. Notice the song of the Spectre Sons of Albion in Jerusalem pl. 65: “We were carried away in thousands from London . . . compell’d to fight under the iron whips / Of our captains, fearing our officers more than the enemy” (K 700). But is not the point here that war is the natural result of industrialization and the alienation and oppression of the workers, “that they may grind / And polish brass & iron hour after hour, laborious task, / Kept ignorant of its use: that they may spend the days of wisdom / In sorrowful drudgery to obtain a scanty pittance of bread, / In ignorance to view a small portion and think that All”? And is not all this the result of natural philosophy advocated by Bacon, Newton and Locke, and also by Voltaire and Rousseau, the inspirers of British capitalism and of the bourgeois revolution in France and its child Napoleon? Certainly capitalism is a universal state, in the world and in the soul.
Perhaps even Erdman would agree with me so far, that the war is the evil means to overthrow war, and that Nelson and Pitt in this apocalyptic sense perform the divine command. Yet I feel there is more to it; Pitt and Nelson are not the senseless tools of a superior will; they are, as Blake says, “pleased to perform the Almighty’s orders” (italics mine). They seem to know exactly what they are doing.
On p. 246 Jack Lindsay uncritically reproduces H. H. Gilchrist’s technically improbable account (pub. 1887, based on a recent interview with George Richmond), of how James Deville took a plaster cast of Blake’s head.75↤ 75 H. H. Gilchrist, ed., Anne Gilchrist (London, 1887), pp. 258-60; Blake Records, pp. 278 f. and n. 3. Cennino Cennini gives an account of how to take a cast of the face of a living person (Tambroni ed. 1821, chs. 164-66; Milanesi ed. 1859, chs. 182-84). This is for taking the face only, not the whole head, but in the following two chapters a method is described for taking a cast of the whole body, or any part of it, using a divided mold. It is tempting to believe that Deville used this text as a reference in 1823. According to Richmond, this was the first cast Deville made, and Blake’s mouth is said to have been given an uncharacteristic look of severity because he suffered much pain through the plaster pulling out a quantity of his hair. This pulling out, however, could only have occurred when the mold was being removed from Blake’s face, after the plaster had hardened. No expression of pain at that stage could have left any impression on the plaster. The making of the mold was described somewhat differently by Herbert P. Horne, also in 1887 and also after a conversation with Richmond: “Much of the forced expression of the nostrils and more particularly of the mouth is due to the discomforture which the taking of the cast involved, many of Blake’s hairs adhering to the plaster until quite recently.”76↤ 76 Herbert P. Horne, Century Guild Hobby Horse (1887), p. 27, quoted from David Bindman, William Blake An Illustrated Catalogue of Works in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (1970), no. 55. There is a hint here that Richmond made two separate statements which were innocently joined together by the interviewers, and particularly by H. H. Gilchrist. Richmond, being a painter, was certainly familiar with the technique of making casts from nature, so I think that he must have told his interviewers something like the following: that Blake’s mouth was distorted, because he found it unpleasant to have his face covered with wet plaster, which, when it begins to harden, gets very warm; that his nostrils were abnormally dilated, because he had to breathe through tubes inserted into them, otherwise he would have died from suffocation under the wet plaster; that these two circumstances accounted for the look of severity; that a number of Blake’s hairs stuck to the mold when it was removed from his face, after having hardened; and that some of the hairs which had stuck to the mold afterwards became attached to the cast, when the cast was made from the mold.
When Richmond said that this was the first cast Deville took he was almost certainly mistaken. The National Portrait Gallery cast is inscribed: “A. 66 / PUBd AUG. 1, 1823. I DEVILL [sic!] / 17 Strand, London.” If the mold was also made about this date, it could hardly have been Deville’s first work, since he, according to J. T. Smith, “when a young man was employed by Mr Nollekens to make casts from moulds.”77↤ 77 John Thomas Smith, Nollekens and His Times (1828), p. 371. Deville was born in 1776; would the devoted phrenologist really have delayed the making of his first mold until he was about 47, although he was familiar with the taking of casts from molds since his youth? It is indeed possible that the mold was made much earlier than the National Portrait Gallery cast; Richmond, who owned the undated cast now at the Fitzwilliam, said that Blake was about 50 when the mold was made. That would suggest a date around 1807, when Deville was 31.
Unfortunately, the “A. 66” on the National Portrait Gallery cast must reasonably refer to Blake’s age when the mold was made. It is true that he was 65, not 66, in August 1823, but the error could be explained by assuming that Deville knew the year but not the day of his birth.
At present the evidence is hopelessly contradictory. Personally, I would rather trust Deville’s inscription than the Richmond interviews. Richmond met Blake in the spring of 1825, when he was 16; in 1807 he was not born, and in 1823 he did not yet know Blake.
On p. 268 Lindsay throws doubt on Richmond’s “edifying tale” of Blake’s death because he “in a letter three days later says nothing of having been in at the death.” In his letter 15 August 1827 to Samuel Palmer, Richmond wrote: “Just before he died His Countenance became fair—His eyes brighten’d and He burst out in Singing of the things he Saw in Heaven[.] In truth He Died like a Saint as a person who was standing by Him Observed.”78↤ 78 Blake Records, pp. 346-47. This is an eyewitness account. That Richmond did not expressly say “I was there at the death” is only natural, because at that time no one suspected that he was not. Later H. H. Gilchrist, quoting Richmond himself, wrote that “George Richmond . . . closed the poet’s eyes and kissed William Blake in death.”79↤ 79 H. H. Gilchrist, Anne Gilchrist, p. 258. The interview must have been after 1882 when Linnell died, Samuel Palmer having died in 1881, since Gilchrist says that Richmond at that time was the only living man who had seen William Blake.
Jack Lindsay is often careless in the handling of sources, and sometimes seems to twist the evidence deliberately in order to discredit “edifying tales spread about by the Ancients,” and make Blake less offensively “Christian.” I think it is because Lindsay is basically in sympathy with Blake that he tries to play down his “spiritual side”—would he not have been an even grander fellow, had he been an atheist? There is still every reason for Blake to implore God to protect him from his friends.